Josh Cooke welcomed the attention his coffee shop received when word first spread of the generosity of an anonymous customer, but he figured the free publicity would be fleeting.
“The story made it onto the front page of the first Sunday paper of 2012,” he said of a piece in The (Hilton Head) Island Packet. “I thought that was a pretty big deal.”
That was more than six weeks ago.
Since then, Cooke’s coffee shop— the Corner Perk in Bluffton — has attracted the attention of various media outlets throughout the nation and even overseas.
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Most recently, Cooke and one of his employees graced the back page of the National Enquirer, for a feature in the supermarket tabloid’s “Acts of Kindness” section.
The interest stems from the actions of a client, who Cooke said prefers to remain anonymous. Every few months, she’ll enter his store and hand the cashier $100 — to pay for future customers’ drinks — before leaving.
He described her as middle-aged, married and of modest means, explaining, “She’s very much into the philosophy of paying it forward.”
So, apparently, are others.
Cooke said he’s recently fielded calls from National Public Radio, as well as news outlets in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
About two dozen congratulatory and appreciative postcards have arrived from all over the country, he said, adding that he hopes to turn them into a collage-like display in the store.
He’s also given interviews to the Toronto Star — the biggest-circulation paper in Canada — and a radio station in Ireland.
“It’s been strange to get these phone calls from all over the world,” he admitted. “But everyone’s really polite and friendly, and it’s great to share this story.”
Corner Perk employee Sarah Clemmons, who appears alongside Cooke in the Enquirer’s photo, said she never suspected the mystery giver might evolve into an international phenomenon.
“It’s taken on a life of its own at this point,” she said. “This is all kind of surreal.”
Cooke said the attention has brought a slight bump in business — “maybe 15 to 20 percent, nothing astronomical” — and that his greatest reward is playing a part in restoring the community’s spirits during an economic slump.
“Some people feel hurt and wounded and taken advantage of by corporate America,” he said. “I think this restores a sense of humanity in people and shows them that if we stick together, we can get through this.”
Cooke says the mystery giver has not made a donation yet in 2012, but her next visit could come any day.
“The last time she was in here, she said she’d return sometime in February,” he said. “We’d love to have her back.”